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Committed to end HIV - in Antwerp and Africa

ITM doctor Kristien Wouters regularly goes to Africa to treat HIV patients. She shares her experiences in Guinea in this blog item.
As an HIV doctor in the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp I have been treating HIV patients in Belgium for over ten years. I also frequently travel to Africa to treat HIV patients. In March 2018 I went to Guinea.
Consultation with Dr. Moise in Fassia

The past years I have been to Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania and DR Congo, as part of the dream-project of the international Sant’Egidio community. I have participated in the project since its start in 2001. In Conakry, capital of Guinea, it is supported by DGD in collaboration with the NGO Memisa.

In Conakry, we offer treatment in three HIV centres.

The first and biggest centre is located in Corniche Nord, in the centre of the city. It's a beautiful centre, with a laboratory that meets Western standards. The laboratory is equipped for the detection of the viral load and CD4 count, and hematology and biochemistry. Thanks to the electronic medical file of all patients, the clinic staff can work efficiently, whether they are nurses, counselors, doctors or pharmacists.

Health care education for waiting patients under the mango tree in Dubreka

Two additional sattelite centres are located outside the city, in Dubreka and Fassia. A mobile team visits these sites once per week. They have to bring everything, because the centres are empty throughout the week. There are no tests, no sampling equipment, no laptops and no medicines. Nor is there running water or electricity, but I was happy to find a generator at the site.

All centres use the same modus operandi. The work of the so-called 'expert patients' or 'peer educators' is crucial. These patients have been trained to sensitise, test and counsel other patients. They play an important part in the psychosocial care of new patients and are living testimonies to the fact that it is possible to live with HIV and medication. This makes the whole process easier to understand and stomach for new patients.

Expert patients are primarily women. The education and job they get this way is a huge empowerment for them, because they have often been ostracised by their husband and family when they found out they are seropositive. They have united in the 'je dream' movement and can be recognised by their white shirts with logo.

Expert patient with newborn

Our primary focus is on the screening and sensitising of pregnant women. If they have contracted HIV, we start their treatment and ask them to bring their partner so he too can be screened and counseled. When a seropositive woman receives treatment, her child can be born completely healthy despite her HIV status. It goes without saying that getting these people on the treatment is enormously important to bring a new, healthy generation into the world.

I'm happy this project allows me to make my contribution to the UNAIDS goal ‘Zero new HIV infections’. Moreover, offering the same treatment in a completely different context broadens my scope of the disease. The African patients teach me a lot, and the knowledge I bring home I can pass on to my local colleagues, doctors and caretakers.

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